LTE: Too many people in San Jose

This “Hell is other people” letter to the editor in the San Jose Mercury News last Friday caught my eye.

11 miles Cambrian to downtown San Jose

The Cambrian area is in south San Jose. The four lanes in front of this writer’s house is probably something like Camden Avenue or Union Avenue. Cambrian is 12 miles from downtown San Jose.

11 miles Cambrian to downtown San Jose

Mr. Ronald Whitney’s solution to his suburban traffic congestion problem is to stop the high density development taking place right now in downtown San Jose. I’m not quite sure where he expects people — including the two generations of children from his neighborhood — to live. If they don’t live downtown, they’ll live out in the suburbs, and golly, a lot of those people might have to drive past his house.

If his neighbors move, instead, to the several hundred units now under construction near downtown, and the several thousand housing units along North 1st, and another 1500+ units that will break ground this year near the Milpitas BART station, then maybe he might even see a slight reduction in traffic in south San Jose.

More houses in the suburbs means more traffic everywhere. More housing near downtown means a more pleasant drive for those who live in the burbs. Right?

Transportation planning = land use planning

Take another look at the Google Map above. The blue line shows the suggested driving route from Cambrian Park to downtown. When Mr. Whitney’s long time neighbors first moved to the area 50 years ago, Highways 85 and 87 did not exist. You can see some of the construction at the 85 / 87 interchange in this video from 1989 about the “Guadalupe Corridor Project.”

The video highlights the light rail system, but in reality, the project was about building six to eight lane freeways to connect the suburbs with the northern industrial area. Residential development followed the roads, and so we now have extremely heavy traffic in Cambrian Park.


  1. I live in Cambrian. I don’t think what happens in downtown will affect Cambrian that much, since housing is mostly fixed in the area and unlikely to be vacated. The issue with Camden Ave is that it really looks like the road designers sat down and said ‘how can we make this road as pedestrian unfriendly as possible’.

    Every aspect of the street seems to be there to discourage vulnerable street users from getting from one side to the other. This means that people are intimidated into choosing driving for many short trips in the area. Note many of the churches, and the community athletic club are on the east side of the road, along with safe connection to shopping and schools further east, and an 85 over-crossing. Good luck getting there from the west side though. The one crosswalk leads to a dead end road. A nearby cross road connects to Carter through a tenuous gate, but sorry, no crosswalk. But no problem, you can just walk over to the 85 on/off ramp and cross three streets and and 18 lanes!! of traffic through a huge intersection treated by drivers as part of the freeway, then walk all the way back down the east side, dodging cars at the cross streets, which have no crosswalks and rounded corners to encourage high speed turns. They made the Avanti shopping center as setback as possible, forcing peds to filter through a crazy parking lot, with no back ped entrance even though it would be easy to have put one. Then failed to put a bike lane on Kooser across the street which is so obviously a perfect street for one, especially if Avanti had a rear ped access. Every aspect of the road combines together to form a total intimidation factor so big it even intimidates drivers it seems.

    People take one look at the dystopian mess that is Camden Ave and say…hmmm..I only have to go 500 feet but I don’t see any other practical option other than taking the car.

  2. Yes, you’re right that people won’t vacate Cambrian (and Blossom Hill and Almaden Valley and …) in favor of downtown and North San Jose, but the heavy development close in to downtown will (hopefully) keep traffic from getting worse in the suburbs.

    Understood about the dystopian traffic mess in your part of town!

  3. Notice the design features of that particular crosswalk. Its marked by a ‘bare minimum’ single white line, using the stop marker line as the other side, which drivers routinely overshoot. There are none of the large perpendicular rectangles normally associated with a crosswalk. Note the corners are not square but rounded to encourage high speed turns to/from the on/off ramp. Higher speed turns then encourage driver to look only to the left as they make the right turn, looking away from the crosswalk. It should deserve a protected center island, to lessen the feeling of exposure, but has none.

    I was in SF this weekend, walking around and exploring, and was impressed with the improvements they are making. I saw quite a few crosswalks that look like they were recently upgraded, like within the last year. Even quite streets with one lane each way had crosswalks with large bright rectangles, with those bright yellow slip resistant ramps which visually pin the location of the curb. The whole thing really pops and stands out. Crossing the new SF crosswalks I feel like pedestrian royalty. Crossing the common SJ crosswalk I feel like a pedestrian fugitive ….watch out!!, quick!!, run!!, like I’m not really in an ‘official’ crosswalk.

    The oppressive design elements and resulting feeling of exposure will be there even if you significantly cut the traffic levels.

  4. @Bike-Scoot These kinds of crossings make you feel like prey animals. When I moved from Berkeley where pedestrians are king, to Mountain View where I had to cross San Antonio Road or El Camino to go anywhere.

    I was a harsh change. I felt very conspicuous, even when I didn’t feel directly threatened. It’s no wonder more people don’t walk in areas that were designed for high-volume, high-speed car traffic.

  5. We need more concentrated development in San Jose and in the surrounding cities. We can’;t continue to build housing outwards and still try to improve transit, walking, cycling and reduce energy use. By building up San Jose we reduce the pressure on the burbs. That should keep the traffic at least the same in areas like Cambrian.

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